by Daylon Hall
Daylon Hall is a senior in the creative writing program at South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He has received an honorable mention award for Scholastic. During his free time he likes watching and obsessing over 80’s and 90’s mobster movies (his favorite is Goodfellas) and enjoying sunny days while listening to Ariana Grande. He is from Eastover, South Carolina but recently moved to Blythewood, SC. You can find him on Instagram @xoxoloverboyy.
The Art of Cartwheels
To start a cartwheel, brace yourself. A strong foundation like the reflective tile of a classroom floor will do. Lift your arms above your head. There is no muscle on them. Nothing to hold your weight up with—only kids do cartwheels. Hear voices behind you, two girls and a guy. They perch on waxy English desks eagerly watching, afraid that the unsteady desks might tip over—cartwheels only hold an audience of up to three. Two voices cheer you on while the other pierces through the crowd with disbelief: You can’t do a cartwheel. Your arms still trying to touch the sky, you stare into the eyes of the person who doesn’t believe—there is always one. Say: Yes I can.
You’ve always had trouble telling people what you couldn’t and could do. You blamed it on the shyness, the scariness of your voice going beyond a hearable tone. That all changed when you met him, however. When you first met him you concluded that he would be your best friend. And once you both grew closer resembling the sun and the moon, you decided that you wanted to be more like him, another sun to brighten the world. You mimicked the way he spoke and did things with confidence, slowly growing out of the cocoon that was once yours, becoming an alluring butterfly. And the more time you spent with him, the more you felt at ease. The more you didn’t want to leave his side.
He is the one that says it. The guy that you’ve had a crush on since 6th grade. The day you saw his brown eyes sparkle without the sun’s help. His light skin made you wonder what he was composed of. Say yes in a manner that makes them think you can. That makes him believe you can. Say it loudly. Voice confidence. Make sure to hold the can for an extra second or two. It’s sassy.
However, sassiness does not compensate for strength. Strength to do a cartwheel. Strength to ignore the looks that your audience members have begun giving you—except for his. Bring your hands (palms facing down) to the floor and swing your legs clockwise around you. This is the fun part. This is the scary part. The world is upside down and everything you thought was right is the opposite. You can’t see straight. You’re unsure if you ever want to see straight again. Savor this feeling.
You remember the times spent arm wrestling on top of silky-long black science tables. You rushed to him every day in the lunch line—skipping tens of people—arguing that you were stronger than him. He liked to challenge that theory. That day you wore a red and black flannel tied around your waist resembling a flowing gown. You liked the way it entered a room after you as if to state that your presence lingered wherever you went. He wore a yellow checkerboard flannel regularly and a copper t-shirt underneath whose words had faded long ago, showcasing a scrawny build that interested you. One of your friends had commented on how the two of you seemed to match on some days and as he laughed and threw his arm around your neck, calling you his best friend and explaining that you shared some type of “best friend telepathy,” your heart did a cartwheel flawlessly.
Rice pellet-shaped eraser shavings that came from the class before scratched both of your elbows as you readied yourself into the arm wrestling stance. None of you minded the scratching—he wanted to showcase his strength to everyone and you wanted to hold his hand a little longer. A mutual friend between the two of you officiated the event saying that you only had about two minutes before the teacher had come back in so make it quick. Everyone knew that the science teacher—who was also the basketball coach—loved healthy competition and likely wouldn't mind the match going over two minutes. And as two minutes quickly flew by, your hands were still joined together by competition and sweat. Classmates had begun to bet on who would win, the number of people rooting for you outweighing his—the teacher had begun to watch and root for you. Your eyes were dead set on him. His nose twitched as if he had to itch but couldn’t, afraid that one unnecessary move would cost him the match, his smile widened every time he almost overpowered you, his eyes gazed at you as if this was the only thing that mattered at that moment. As if you were the only thing that mattered. With a silent sigh, you loosened the grip of your hand, allowing him to easily overpower you, declaring him the winner. And as everyone cheered for him and his smile and laugh lit the classroom, you made a declaration of your own, that you would do anything for him.
He is your twist. He is your turn. The way you waited for his text messages curled up on the couch, the smells of your mother’s stew chicken filling the room alongside the football reporter’s analyst on television. The text came two days later. The way he loved books. His hatred for book-to-film adaptations—Hunger Games was the only acceptable one. The way Vaseline glistened on his lips as he compared the two during English, never taking his eyes off you. The way it was your Vaseline that made his lips shine. The way you both sang to Charlie Puth’s “Attention” on the way home from band competitions. The tail-lights of cars speeding by in a blur. The way the right headphone was in his ear, the left one in yours. He always liked your music more than anyone else. It was one of the reasons why you believed he sat by you. That night driving back home he hadn’t said a word to you signaling that he was sad or tired. You gently tapped his arm and asked him to listen to this new song and though it was hard to even make out if he was looking at you or much less agreed, you turned it on anyway. He swayed—both of your knees touching each at that moment—and nodded his head in a way that made you chuckle. He asked to keep the song on repeat, learning the words to it that night as the world tuned itself out and it was just you, him, and Charlie Puth. He was off-key and off-tempo, yet he swore on his foster home that he wasn't. You didn't mind either way. You never minded with him.
You never minded the way he got your attention when you were too busy gazing into his eyes, by snapping his fingers in your face. The smell of Axe body wash and soap teasing your nose. You never minded the way his face turned a candy apple red. The way the veins in his hands bulged more and more as he clenched his fist at the mention of his biological parents. You never minded when he gushed over his on-and-off girlfriend of middle school. You never minded when he asked you to help find gifts for her. Bracelets, promise rings, necklaces—you always wondered how he got the money, suspecting that he got it from his biological mother that lived somewhere in Georgia. He had only told you that much about her. He wanted gifts that meant “I love you,” without uttering those three words.
Realize that falling is a part of life. Falling in love. Falling out of love. It’s all like cartwheels. Brace yourself for it. Learn to love the feel of the cold tile through the back of your shirt—never attempt to do cartwheels outside, the grass is too soft, you won’t learn how to properly fall. You won’t feel how to properly fall. Realize that falling hurts in more places than you thought. The toes, the ankles, the legs, the thighs, the butt, the stomach, the spine, and the ribs. And the heart. Realize that you had fallen in love with him. Accept that you had fallen in love with him.
Convince yourself to tell him how you feel. One gentle knee, hand, shoulder touch at a time until your feet magically land back on the floor. And then, the world is back to the way it was. You become bored with the way the world looks in its natural state. So you repeat the steps. Over and over and over again. Looking at different people. Realizing them in a way that hurts your heart. And as you cartwheel, you realize something about twists and turns. They interrupt. They change your life.